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Editor’s note: The following first appeared on the Windows blog TuneUp. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.
Written by: Tibor Schiemann, co-founder of TuneUp Utilities
For the longest time, there was a chorus of gamers forecasting the death of PC gaming. But the number of naysayers is rapidly evaporating—recent reports show PC gaming is now poised to overtake consoles by 2014. And in some ways, this trend has been years in the making if you consider that, unlike consoles such as the PS3 and Xbox 360 that are based on six-year-old hardware, PCs can be upgraded and tweaked to accommodate the newest games.
In fact, recent blockbusters such as Diablo 3 and Max Payne 3 are designed to consume serious amounts of CPU resources, thrash your hard disk and give your graphics card a major beating. With PCs, you can make adjustments so that your computer can endure this, whereas consoles simply leave you with a suboptimal experience. But if you want to actually enjoy this “PC advantage,” you’ll first have to ensure that your computer is truly equipped for gaming. After all, behind software such as AutoCAD or video-editing programs, gaming ranks as the most resource-hungry application, so your PC should be prepped to handle the onslaught.
The specifics of how to ready your PC vary based on your machine, but there are nine tips that I’d recommend to nearly any gamer—no matter which computer they own.
Update Your Drivers
This should always be the first step you take when tuning your gaming PC. In fact, retail PCs—even gaming rigs—usually come with older drivers that fail to deliver full performance. For instance, I have a mid-level gaming PC, an Alienware X51, and it came with a graphics driver that was already eight months old upon purchase.
To upgrade, I’d look at what both NVIDIA and AMD are offering. NVIDIA recently released its 300 series of drivers, promising a 23% performance improvement for newer games. And for NVIDIA users looking to squeeze the last possible bit of performance from their systems, consider the company’s free beta drivers. But remember, these versions have not yet gone through WHQL, so they might be buggy or instigate crashes. AMD also offers drivers for its HD Radeon on its support website, but it’s always wise to check the company’s game blog for beta releases of the AMD Catalyst.
Another word of caution: don’t just pick the latest driver, because new doesn’t necessarily equate to best. Rather, listen to the gamer community and read forum comments to make an informed decision. Also, keep in mind that it’s not just the GPU that needs regular updating. Chipset, sound and network drivers tend to have an impact on performance, too.
Close and Get Rid of Apps
Common sense, but commonly ignored advice. The more programs running in the background, the slower your games will run. It’s that simple. Each active application consumes CPU cycles and RAM, impacting hard-disk performance. This means shutting down PhotoShop and iTunes, closing web browsers—everything. Nothing active should be in your taskbar when you’re gaming.
Also, go through the list of installed programs on your PC, figure out which of these you don’t need and uninstall them. And finally, get rid of start-up applications, which are those programs in the taskbar tray. None, even the critical ones, are needed for gaming. There are ways to turn them off using the very rudimentary “msconfig,” or there are some tools on the market that can also help with this.
Defrag or TRIM Your Disk
In Windows 8, Microsoft has integrated the TRIM command into the Disk Defragmenter — to access this, simply hit “Optimize.” Windows 7 doesn’t offer this, but make sure that the TRIM command is regularly executed. TRIM allows Windows 7 to tell a solid-state drive (SSD) which files should be deleted and completely erases the corresponding data blocks. The moment a file is deleted from an SSD, Windows 7 not only updates the file system (as it normally would), but it also informs the SSD which data blocks can be removed. These blocks are marked as free so that Windows and third-party programs can use them. To see if TRIM is enabled, open up a command prompt by clicking on the Start orb and typing “cmd” into the search bar. Right-click on the first result (“cmd”), and click “Run as administrator.” Next, type in the command “Fsutil behavior query disabledeletenotify,” and hit Enter. If this returns the result “= 0″, you’re good to go! Otherwise, TRIM isn’t supported and needs to be enabled. Try entering the command “fsutil behavior set DisableDeleteNotify 0″. If that doesn’t help, a firmware upgrade might be necessary to enable TRIM.
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